Test Automation Gains And Limitations

Alina Jakubowicz
29 May 2020 · 6 min read

In the age of digitalization, all sorts of services are offered that require applications to be built. The process of building an application usually consists of alternating development and testing cycles, which tends to consume a lot of time - often more than is actually available. This poses a common problem for the software development cycle. One of the prominent solutions that have been created to mitigate this issue is automated testing. At first glance, test automation seems like the perfect tool for the job, but as with all things in life, it does come at a cost and has some limitations. We will explore it in details and share our hands-on experience so that you can decide if it is the right choice for your project.

What are the benefits of automated testing?

They accelerate software delivery

Test automation offers a significant gain in the speed and rate at which given tests can be performed. For example, regression tests can be performed faster and more frequently than if they were conducted manually. This is especially useful when you need to check several versions of the application every time. Besides, being able to quickly perform many functional tests on various devices enables the tester to provide swift feedback to the developers. This in turn allows them to know whether they can start working on other features or have to go back and fix bugs found during testing. In short, the whole process goes both faster and smoother.

  • They improve testing efficiency

Testing consumes a tremendous part of the entire application lifecycle, so every small improvement to the efficiency can have a great impact on the overall timeframe of the project. Although the initial stage of the test automation process consumes a lot of time, it is worth it in the long run. Automation allows cross-browser and cross-device testing to run simultaneously 24/7. Tests can be run unattended, leaving only the results for analysis and allowing testers to focus on more demanding cases instead of repetitive manual tests.

  • They increase multithreaded testing

Automated testing allows us to perform the widest spectrum of test cases in a variety of environments, operating systems, and web browsers simultaneously. Many complex cases can be executed in one test run without the need for human resources. The test coverage could also be increased due to the possibility of performing various types of tests, including performance or stress tests, which would be difficult to achieve with just manual testing.

  • They reduce bug detection time

Automated tests executed from the early stages of the application lifecycle allow for constant monitoring of the basic functionalities during its development and thus find bugs as they are introduced.

  • They reduce project costs

As mentioned earlier, test automation enables faster detection of defects. The earlier a defect is discovered, the easier and cheaper it can be fixed. Automation also reduces the time needed to perform regression tests, and thus significantly reduces the budget needed for the required test coverage. Therefore, the whole software project costs are lower.

  • They eliminate risk of human error

Automated testing is free from problems that are only specific to humans, such as a lack of precision or focus caused by repetitive tasks or fatigue. These tests can be run repeatedly in the same way, and as often as necessary.

  • They simplify reporting

Most automated frameworks generate detailed reports with a step by step description of application functionality. This allows tracking of each test script and clearly shows which tests have already been performed and if any bugs were found at what step they occurred.

  • They improve manual testing

The use of automated tests takes some of the repetitive manual tests off QA's shoulders, freeing them up to take care of testing aspects that are not available to machines, i.e. creative problem-solving. Committing to more interesting tasks and working on new functionalities, instead of merely repeating the same paths, has a positive impact on testers’ morale and thereby on the results of their work.

What are the disadvantages of automated testing?

  • They require initial investment

The initial cost of automated testing is higher because it requires the employment of a specialist in the field of automation as well as the use of specialized tools and frameworks. Also, the maintenance of the tests themselves generates an additional cost.

  • They require maintenance

Automatic tests must be updated to be in sync with the developed application. Sometimes even a small change in the GUI may require rework of the test scripts or new test scripts to be written. Otherwise, there is a risk that the test reports will be falsified due to incompatibility with the latest version of the application. This results in laborious maintenance, increased costs, and additional time and effort.

  • They can generate false results

In a situation where the test result fails, it does not necessarily mean that the application has an error. A failed test can be due to many different reasons which can be unrelated to the tested application such as network issues, one of the external services being down, or as mentioned earlier, a lack of proper test suite maintenance causing it to be outdated. Therefore, the test report containing information about the failed test requires further detailed analysis and verification.

  • They are inflexible

Automation has software limitations imposed by the QA engineer. Such tests can only do what they are told to do and can check only the paths which have been specified in their code. As a result, they overlook bugs which could be obvious to a human tester. When manual testers find something that seems to behave strangely in an application, they explore the issue with their intuition. This often leads to the discovery of bugs in the least expected places.

  • They can stall feedback

When some functionality is ready to be tested and quick feedback is required, it would usually be faster to check it manually than automatically. Automated tests take extra time to be set up and run, not to mention that the reports need to be analyzed later too.

  • They can’t think like humans

Automatic tests can check if an application works as intended, but no script can correctly assess its appearance, consistency, and ease of use. All automatic tests can pass if the application is technically working as planned. However, for users, the app could still be difficult to navigate or a necessary functionality may be missing. Thus, user experience tests need to be performed manually. Only human testers, thanks to their creative thinking, can spot issues that aren't bugged by definition. A case in point here is a misleading visual problem, which is something that is virtually undetectable for automatic tests.

Conclusion

The Art of Software Testing is in the continuous pursuit of trying to mitigate the risk of software bugs, as one can never be 100% sure that every possible use case scenario in the application has been tested. Before starting the testing process at all, we formulate the test plan. To do so, we need to think about the whole course of creating a new application and try to predict as much as possible. Only then can we decide on the appropriate amount of automation that should be used. For the test automation process, a perfect application should be stable with a predicted long development duration.

It is easy to get lost in the deeply-rooted perception that test automation is a perfect solution for everything and that we should stubbornly utilize them in every situation. This can only lead to a waste of time and resources.

On the other hand, attempts to conduct the whole process manually in a finite amount of time is doomed to failure, because of the limitations of the human brain and its memory.

To sum up, only a carefully planned balance between automated and manual tests can ensure the best application quality at the lowest cost and make a real profit for a company. It is important to always pursue a golden means of maintaining this balance between the two, as well as managing them in a way that allows for the optimization of a project’s goals.


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